Thursday, October 13, 2011

America's War of 1% Against the 99%

Here is a bit from a Bloomberg News report:
A widening gap between rich and poor is reshaping the U.S. economy, leaving it more vulnerable to recurring financial crises and less likely to generate enduring expansions.

Left unchecked, the decades-long trend toward increasing inequality may condemn Wall Street to a generation of unimpressive returns and even shake social stability, economists and financial-industry executives say.

“Income inequality in this country is just getting worse and worse and worse,” James Chanos, president and founder of New York-based Kynikos Associates Ltd., told Bloomberg Radio this week. “And that is not a recipe for stable economic growth when the rich are getting richer and everybody else is being left behind.”

Since 1980, about 5 percent of annual national income has shifted from the middle class to the nation’s richest households. That means the wealthiest 5,934 households last year enjoyed an additional $650 billion -- about $109 million apiece -- beyond what they would have had if the economic pie had been divided as it was in 1980, according to Census Bureau data.

Disputes over what constitutes economic fairness are moving to center stage amid a near-stagnant U.S. economy saddled with 9.1 percent unemployment yet boasting record corporate profits. President Barack Obama last month targeted “the wealthiest taxpayers and biggest corporations” for higher taxes, saying they should pay “their fair share.” That drew charges of “class warfare” from House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
The legacy or right wing politics, starting with Nixon in 1968 are obvious:
Since 1968, incomes in the U.S. have become steadily less equally distributed, according to the standard statistical measure of inequality known as the Gini coefficient. The U.S. Gini score rose from .39 in 1968 to .47 in 2010, meaning that incomes were becoming increasingly unequal.
The typical American household, meanwhile, has yet to regain the ground it lost during the recession. The median income of $49,445 at the end of 2010 remained below the level reached in 1997.
Raghuram Rajan, the IMF’s former chief economist, says countries with high levels of inequality tend to produce ineffective economic policies. Political systems in economically divided countries grow polarized and immobilized by the sort of zero-sum politics now gripping Washington, he said.
The government’s response to the financial crisis may also have exacerbated the rich-poor gap by shifting liabilities from private banks to taxpayers. Households and businesses have trimmed their debts since the 2008 peak while government borrowing -- to recapitalize the nation’s banks and battle the recession -- has exploded.

As a result, total domestic nonfinancial sector debt topped $36.5 trillion at mid-year, compared with $32.4 trillion in mid- 2008. And that massive load leaves the economy vulnerable to future shocks.

“In the current climate, if nothing is done about income inequality there may be recurring crises,” says Kumhof, adding: “Leverage has not significantly improved. In terms of the danger of another crisis, we’re right back where we started.”
The problem is obvious and the people are in the street. Tragically the White House is occupied by an aloof, distant, non-politician more interested in "compromise" than in "solutions". It is looking like a situation where nothing will happen until enough blood runs in the streets to force the dithering politicians to "do their duty" and address the economic woes and return the American dream to people. Sad. An activist leader would be out in front of the mobs and defusing the situation. But Obama will dither until things boil over.

The Bloomberg article is excellent. Go read the whole thing.

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